Exercising Before, During and After Pregnancy

min read


The Sports Injury Clinic

Katie Barnes

March 11, 2020


Historically, pregnant women were encouraged to take it easy and not exert themselves. However more recently, exercise is being encouraged for several reasons.

Common questions

  • Will it affect my unborn baby?
  • Will I hurt myself?
  • Will it help me maintain healthy weight gain?

Exercise before, during and after pregnancy now has many known benefits. And having any form of activity (as able/tolerated) is a better addition at any point than nothing or full inactivity.

Before you get pregnant

Exercising before you even plan on getting pregnant can assist in regulating your menstrual cycle, reducing stress levels and maintaining a healthy weight range, all helpful factors when the time comes to want to try.

Both cardiovascular and strength training, as well as mindfulness exercises are great additions to a regular routine to ensure you are looking after both your body and mind. Exercise has been shown not only to improve your physical and mental health but it assists in the management of conditions affecting hormonal and reproductive health such as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis.

So you're trying..?

Trying your absolute hardest not to stress about it can sometimes make it worse for both parties involved. Regardless of whether you're trying naturally or through assisted methods (IVF, donor, fertility specialists), trying to get pregnant is a combination of the most exciting time and the most worrying time. Having a regular physical activity schedule can help to try and stay on top of not only your day to day stresses, but keep the mind occupied.

For those going through assisted methods of getting pregnant, you may not feel up to doing a whole heap of structured exercise, but anything is better than nothing if you're feeling like you can manage some.

You're pregnant!

Congratulations!! Take each day as it comes!

Some are lucky enough to only get mild pregnancy symptoms throughout, but common complaints during the first trimester including nausea, vomiting and fatigue. These can play havoc on your ability to feel like exercise, or maintaining what you have already built up!

Recommendation wise, it is encouraged to not increase your intensity or introduce new high impact exercise once you become pregnant. If you were already an active person (i.e. Running), continuing this form of exercise is fine as long as it isn't causing any drama to your body and particularly the pelvis. Seek guidance from an Exercise Physiologist or Physiotherapist if you are concerned.

Other things to look out for and discuss with your team/GP/obstetrician/midwife is if there is any vaginal bleeding or fluid loss, abdominal cramping or pain in the pubic area, dizziness or headaches.

Great forms of exercise during pregnancy include:

  • Walking
  • Strengthening exercises focusing on upper and lower body strength (particularly for glutes, hamstrings, abdominals, shoulders and arms)
  • Swimming and water based exercise
  • Pilates and yoga

Goals of exercise during pregnancy

- Increase muscular strength and cardiovascular fitness:

  • This can assist with your body's ability to tolerate not only pregnancy related changes, but labour and recovery

- Weight management:

  • Weight gain is expected during pregnancy, however for those starting with a higher body weight, your weight gain goals may be different

- Mental health

- Healthy mum = healthy baby

Considerations during pregnancy:

  • Complete an extended warm up and cool down so not to increase the body temperature too quickly/overheating
  • Avoid exercise on your back after 16 weeks
  • Ensure adequate hydration and nutrition for output (keeping up with weight gain goals)

As pregnancy progresses, some women prefer to steer further towards gentler forms of exercise such as swimming as if gives a feeling of weightlessness while in the water. This further offloads the joints that are being loaded more each week!

Exercise to avoid during pregnancy:

Activity with a high risk of falling or direct impact such as:

  • Most sports (netball is certainly not non-contact anymore!)
  • Horse-riding
  • Jumping sports
  • Exercising in the heat (natural or otherwise!)
  • Exercising outside in the heat of the day, particularly in warmer months
  • Bikram yoga
  • Steam and sauna rooms, hot water exercise, hot tubs

* Try and exercise in a temperature controlled environment (air-conditioned if available).

Listen to your body! Everyone is different and pregnancy is not exempt. Some women are like unicorns and feel great the whole way through with minimal inconvenience, while others can be sick the whole way through, with pelvic instability and pain, reflux, excessive fatigue, the joyful list continues.

So the bottom line during pregnancy is to do what you can, and do things that make you feel good.

Don't forget your pelvic floor

Strengthening your pelvic floor during is just as important as after. If you already had some issues before baby, seek help from a specialist pelvic floor physiotherapist to get on top of things before baby's big arrival.

Pregnancy complications to be careful of

Exercise may need to be avoided by some people unfortunately, with conditions such as:

  • Gestational hypertension and pre-eclampsia
  • Pelvic pain and instability 

Very person specific and certain forms of exercise may be of benefit to reduce pain and discomfort as the weeks go by:

  • Placenta Previa (the placenta is situated over the cervix)
  • Breech position in the third trimester
  • Uncontrolled diabetes (gestational or otherwise)
  • Persistent bleeding or fluid loss

If you have been told you have any of these conditions, discuss with your primary caregiver for clearance before starting or continuing your exercise routine.

The post-natal period and beyond!

Your baby is here. A whole new world awaits you. Will the baby be a good sleeper? Will they take to breastfeeding easily? How long does it take to feel yourself again?

Just like during pregnancy, everyone is different afterwards as well, and with the little human to consider on top of it all. If you're breastfeeding, expressing or feeding before exercise will generally make things more comfortable. Keep your fluids and nutrition up or seek assistance from a dietician for recommendations.

Common complaints after bubs arrival:

  • Fatigue/sleep deprivation
  • New mummy pains (back pain both upper and lower is common, so many cuddles!)
  • Post-natal depression
  • Abdominal muscle separation

Structured strength exercise can generally be reintroduced around 6 weeks for a vaginal delivery and 12 weeks after a caesarean, however this is different for everyone depending on how the body feels and any complications that may have been found along the way. Walking is generally recommended earlier to get mum moving again.

The wrap up

Everyone is different. No two pregnancies are the same, and exercise prescription should be tailored to your individual needs before, during and after pregnancy.

At TSIC, we have you covered across the board for before, during and after pregnancy.

- Physiotherapy and Myotherapy for those aches and pains. (Yes we have preggi-pillow!)

- Pelvic Floor Physiotherapy for pelvic pain and dysfunction.

- Exercise Physiology for hitting your goals at any stage of the process.

- Dietician specialising women's hormonal health and fertility.

We have a classes available for mums and bubs, tailored perfectly to your needs.

Pilates (reformer and floor 60mins) Wednesday's at 1pm. $25 per class


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